BEIJING – China will launch its first ever moon rover early next month, state media said Tuesday, with the vehicle named Yutu (jade rabbit) in a nod to Chinese folklore.
The name derives from a Chinese myth about a white rabbit that lives on the moon as the pet of Chang’e, a lunar goddess who swallowed an immortality pill.
The rocket carrying the probe will be launched in early December, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense. It did not give a specific date. China has previously sent two probes to orbit the moon, with controllers sending the first of them crashing into the lunar surface at the end of its mission.
“China has named its first moon rover Yutu, or jade rabbit, following an online poll,” Xinhua added.
The rabbit’s outline is said to be visible on the moon’s surface, similar to the Western concept of the “man in the moon.”
Beijing sees its military-run space program as a marker of its rising global stature and growing technological might, as well as the ruling Communist Party’s success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.
It has ambitious plans to create a permanent space station by 2020 and eventually send a human to the moon, but its technology currently lags behind the expertise of the U.S. and Russia.
China showed off a model of the gold-colored moon rover, with six wheels and winglike solar panels, earlier this month.
The vehicle can climb inclines of up to 30 degrees and travel up to 200 meters per hour, its designers said.
References to a moon rabbit in Chinese folklore date back to the Warring States period, which ended in 221 B.C.
Ouyang Ziyuan, head of the moon rover project, told Xinhua that the ancient beliefs had their origins in the marks left by impacts on the lunar landscape.
“There are several black spots on the moon’s surface. Our ancient people imagined they were a moon palace, osmanthus trees and a jade rabbit,” he said.